January 17, 2020

Portugal Touts Its Jewish ‘Law of Return’

In December 2017, Portugal was officially recognized as the “World’s Leading Destination” by the World Travel Awards.

It’s also one of the most Jewish-friendly countries, according to Lisbon Jewish Community President Gabriel Steinhardt, who said the presence of hate groups and anti-Semitic rhetoric in Portugal is negligible compared with other Western European countries.

Steinhardt was one of several speakers, including Lisbon Chief Rabbi Natan Peres, Portuguese Secretary of Tourism Ana Mendes Godinho and Portuguese Consul General in San Francisco Maria João Lopes Cardoso at the Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel on Feb 8. The delegation was on hand to discuss Portugal’s Jewish historic and cultural legacy, as well as the country’s bold “law of return” for Jews.

Steinhardt said Jewish interest in Portugal transcends monuments, cemeteries, ornate older synagogues and specialized Jewish museums, because prior to the Portuguese Inquisition in 1536, 20 percent of Portugal’s inhabitants were Jewish. This knowledge, he said, has led Jewish and non-Jewish Portuguese citizens and others of Portuguese descent to realize their family trees may have Jewish roots.

“The Jewish contribution to Portugal has existed from the fifth century forward.” — Maria João Lopes Cardoso

The Portuguese law of return was enacted in 2015 to encourage Jews with proven Portuguese ancestry to put down roots in Portugal. Lopes Cardoso said since the law’s inception, 12,000 people worldwide have applied for Portuguese citizenship and 2,000 have received it.

“Los Angeles is an important city, as the Sephardic community is one of the biggest in the States,” she said. “The Jewish contribution to Portugal has existed from the fifth century forward.” She added that despite the Inquisition, many Jews remained in Portugal as Crypto-Jews or converts in name only.

Lopes Cardoso also spoke about Jewish influences on Portugal’s culinary landscape, including kosher wine production in Belmonte and how Crypto-Jews tweaked their chorizo recipes by swapping out the pork for chicken in their sausages.

Mendes Godinho said she was personally excited about the uptick in interest among Jewish people coming to Portugal, which, she said, is due in part to Portugal receiving the World Travel Award.

“We are vested in turning [Portugal’s] past into its present and future by connecting other Jewish communities throughout the world, thereby making amends with the past,” she said.

You can learn more about the Portuguese Jewish law of return at sephardicjewsportugal.com.